Showing posts with label Entertainment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Entertainment. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Show red card to soaring prices


APR 22, 2014

THERE is no running away from the fact that the rising cost of acquiring country broadcast rights to the football World Cup will never abate. Fifa, the regulator of the game, has the world in a stranglehold and it is not shy to demand ever larger fees from a captive clientele. Televised sport is big business, with rights holders to the Olympics, Masters golf, Formula 1 and tennis majors vying with football to charge as much as consumers can bear. The market is huge and growing - with nary a care for price-conscious consumers.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Old maid cafe

Nov 26, 2010


Girls make way for matriarchs to celebrate old age in greying Japan

TOKYO: Japan's famed 'maid cafes' featuring coy young girls serving tea in frilly aprons and bonnets have been given a new twist - a cafe of unsmiling, grim-faced grannies celebrating old age in a fast-greying nation.

Tokyo's Ikebukuro district now boasts Cafe Rottenmeier, named after the disciplinary housekeeper in the hit 1970s animation series Heidi, Girl Of The Alps.

It has been drawing some 500 customers daily during weekends this month.

Patrons are greeted with a terse 'welcome home' by an unsmiling Fraulein Rottenmeier lookalike before being scolded for slouching in chairs or not removing their coats in the cafe's warm and cosy interior.

There are 30 'Rottenmeiers' who work shifts, including students, office workers and retired real-life grannies, as part of the Festival/Tokyo contemporary arts gathering being held until Sunday.
Although the 'grannies' range in age from 24 to 77 - with the younger matriarchs sporting heavy make-up to look old - the woman behind the concept said she is making a statement on accepting an ageing society.

'Many people think one must be young to do certain things. It's an unnatural obsession,' said 43-year-old artist Miwa Yanagi.

Especially in a country that is rapidly greying, with one of the world's lowest birth rates of 1.37 children a woman taking a dwindling population even lower, helping to deflate an already sagging economy.

The average age of Japan's farmers, for example, is 66.

But Ms Yanagi sees the nation's elders as a cause for celebration.

'Japan is the world's greatest nation of grannies,' she said, in a reference to the nation's average life expectancy of over 86 for women, the world's highest.

Yet despite this, Japan 'worships young women', Ms Yanagi said. 'It loves young women, as you can see in maid cafes or images of women in subculture. Why can't there be a grannies' cafe?'
The grannies, selected from some 50 applicants through an audition, are enjoying being old as much as clients seem to be enjoying being disciplined, said Ms Naomi Akamatsu, a 42-year-old actress wearing fake wrinkles.

'Young boys and girls nowadays long to be scolded,' she said of the concept, which Ms Yanagi says demonstrates the need for strong elders in a nation of small, two-generation families.

Questions about the erosion of social bonds in Japan were raised earlier this year following a nationwide survey which found that more than 230,000 registered centenarians were missing.
Japan launched the search after a string of grisly discoveries - including a mummified man in his bed and an old woman's remains in a backpack - sparked alarm over the fate of many of the elderly.

The cases also triggered a wave of soul-searching over elderly people living in isolation.

But while the cafe remains a light- hearted meditation on Japanese society, it is also a celebration of the Heidi legend.

Many of its customers were children when the Heidi anime first enchanted audiences on Japanese television in 1974.

The popular series, based on the 19th-century novel by Swiss author Johanna Spyri, illustrates Heidi's days in the Swiss Alps with Fraulein Rottenmeier keeping a strict watch.

Young patrons such as Ms Yui Tokunaga, 23, turn up just to see the older, hardline contrast with Japan's famous maid cafes, which usually feature young girls in skimpy outfits, bowing and kneeling as they stir drinks.

'I associate the image of maids with being cute, but here it's fun to see them not being so,' she said.

Madam Kayo Ishikawa, 66, a grandmother of three who started acting after she retired, enjoys being an unsmiling, dour Rottenmeier and appreciates the spirit of the fictitious character despite her age.

'I think she is a woman who devoted herself to her job... I have the impression that she is a woman who earns money by herself and provides for herself,' she said.

Ms Yanagi, the artist, said it was great that 'elderly women are ready to take on new challenges'.
And while she is too young to be a grandmother now, Ms Yanagi said she is ready to embrace the challenges of old age when they arrive.

'I'm looking forward to it,' she said.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Curing cancer by committee


July 29, 2010

My eldest decided the other day it was time I knew about something about Web 2.0 — Web 2.0 being broadly understood to mean whatever happens next in the world of the Internet. So he presented me with a couple of books plus an essay, which he felt would get me up to speed. I've now perused these learned works, which have given me insight into the shape of things to come. For example, is your idea of diversion an evening in front of the tube? I'm sorry — in the future, you'll have to cure a loathesome disease first.

Let's start with the essay. It's entitled "Gin, Television, and Social Surplus" by Clay Shirky, a teacher at New York University, a hotbed of advanced online thought. The essay appeared in 2008 and is well known among the cognoscenti, and my bringing it up now will strike some as on a par with getting excited about the Gettysburg Address. My apologies to these cutting-edge individuals. For the rest of you, here's the gist:

In the early nineteenth century, the chief way people dealt with the stresses of factory work and urbanization was the consumption of vast amounts of gin. Not till much later did institutions arise — Shirky cites museums, libraries and schools — that took advantage of urban aggregation to provide the citizenry with more constructive ways to occupy their time.

The equivalent of gin in the latter twentieth century was the TV sitcom, which soaked up the excess energy generated by increased postwar affluence and leisure: "Desperate Housewives essentially functioned as a kind of cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat," Shirky writes. In short, TV = opiate of the masses.

The Web has at last provided us with an outlet for the mental energy heretofore sucked up by sitcoms. Exhibit A is Wikipedia, and one can only guess what additional marvels await.
The general formulation, then, is as follows: (a) massive societal upheaval produces social surplus; (b) lacking alternatives, we then blow off said surplus in useless dissipation (gin, TV); (c) eventually institutions and/or technology evolve to put the surplus to more productive use; (d) world becomes better place. To illustrate, Shirky calculates that Wikipedia to date has consumed 100 million hours of effort, which seems impressive until you consider that, in the U.S. alone, we spend 200 billion hours every year watching television. If we harnessed those squandered resources, Shirky observes (the common expression is "unused cycles"), we could produce the equivalent of 2,000 Wikipedias per year — and if that doesn't fill you with guilt, I don't know what will.

Next on the reading list was The Wisdom of Crowds (2004). In it New Yorker business columnist James Surowiecki argues that groups of people, not all of whom are necessarily geniuses, often get better results than geniuses working alone. He cites some uncanny predictions, which I think it's worth my describing in detail:

In 1968 the U.S. submarine Scorpion vanished in the North Atlantic en route to its home port. The Navy knew little other than the vessel's last reported location. Rather than search randomly, naval officer John Craven drew up scenarios of the sub's fate — nature of failure, speed, rate of descent, and so on. Then he submitted these to experts who were asked to gauge the likelihood of each without consulting the others. Finally, Craven performed statistically wizardry on the result to come up with a collective estimate of the sub's location. The sub, which might have been anywhere within a 20-mile circle, was found 220 yards from the estimated spot. Whoa.

British scientist Francis Galton in 1906 analyzed the results of a contest at a regional agricultural fair, in which participants were asked to guess the dressed weight (after butchering) of a certain ox. The contest was open to anyone, including farmers and ordinary jamokes. Eight hundred people gave it a shot. After the contest was over, Galton collected the entries and averaged the guesses: 1,197 pounds. The actual weight of the dressed ox: 1,198 pounds. Whoa again.

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger blew up shortly after launch. Investors promptly began dumping the stock of four contractors who'd help build it: Lockheed, Martin Marietta, Rockwell, and Morton Thiokol. (The last made the booster rockets, which featured something known as an O-ring.) All four stocks at first fell sharply. The first three partially recovered by the end of the day, but Morton Thiokol's kept falling and at the close of trading was down 12 percent, suggesting the market had determined the firm bore primary responsibility for the disaster. After painstaking investigation an official commission confirmed this conclusion six months later. The market had figured it out in one day.

By this time the reader is thoroughly freaked out. Now, the first two stories you can rationalize. Perusing the Wikipedia article about the Scorpion, we learn that underwater breakup noises helped the Navy get a fix on the vessel's location. Likewise, in the Galton story we may surmise that the collective wisdom of the knowledgeable farmers swamped the scattered efforts of everyone else.

Correctly assessing the blame for the Challenger disaster, on the other hand … there's a miracle for you. Surowiecki cites an analysis by two economists, who wind up conceding they can't explain it — there's no evidence anyone had inside information, and the traders had no scientific knowledge. So how did they do it — magic? ESP? Did they sense a disturbance in the force? No. Surowiecki explains:

At heart, the answer rests on a mathematical truism. If you ask a large enough group of diverse, independent people to make a prediction or estimate a probability, and then average those estimates, the errors each of them makes in coming up with an answer will cancel themselves out. Each person's guess, you might say, has two components: information and error. Subtract the error, and you're left with information.

Who can argue with that?

The other book my kid presented me with, which for me put matters over the top, was Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business (2008) by Wired magazine contributing editor Jeff Howe. Howe describes various successful online collaborations, the best known example of which other than Wikipedia is undoubtedly Linux, the free open-source operating system. He quotes a fellow named Ted Gulley, who runs contests in which programmers compete online to produce the best software:

We have truly brilliant people playing. One of them will make a breakthrough, and on its own it would have been the best solution in an old-school contest. Just because they're brilliant. But with … the contest, immediately people are able to come along and tweak it. No single person could do that. It's the swarm, this great big collective brain we have access to. What will really be amazing is if we can tap that brain to cure cancer.

Now we start to get to the heart of the thing. However, some subtleties remain to be grasped. You might think the great big collective brain consists only of the brilliant. Not so. In the Web 2.0 view of things, dopes have their place. Surowiecki writes:

Bringing new members into the organization, even if they're less experienced and less capable, actually makes the group smarter because what little the new members do know is not redundant with what everyone else knows.

He quotes organizational theorist James March:

The development of knowledge may depend on maintaining an influx of the na├»ve and the ignorant, and … competitive victory does not reliably go to the educated.

Anybody who follows politics is thinking: no shit. However, there are broader implications. Surowiecki goes on to say:

What is striking … is just how much information a group's collective verdict so often contains … the crowd is holding a nearly complete picture of the world in its collective brain.

So let's review:
  • Online collaborations have accomplished amazing things.
  • Crowds of mopes (and let's be frank, muchachos — this means you and me) are collectively smarter than isolated geniuses, since we all have random quanta of information that no single individual possesses.
  • If you were to add up the thoughts of everybody in the world, the dimwitted parts would cancel out and what's left would be complete global knowledge.
  • We all have computers (well, one billion of us do) plus lots of free time, provided we don't blow it on Desperate Housewives and Jersey Shore.
You see where this is headed. Once they get the work assignments figured out, they're going to be after us to cure cancer, probably for free, although maybe we'll get a T-shirt out of it. How and when are we supposed to go about this? I expect they'll be e-mailing us instructions. In the meantime, if you know what's good for you, don't watch sitcoms on TV.

— Ed Zotti

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Essentially Eastwood - He's got game

Jan 14, 2009

From the man with no name to Oscar-winning legend, Clint Eastwood has done it all

By john lui

Just a year shy of his 80th birthday, Clint Eastwood has released two new films that should stir the pot of debate as to what makes a 'Clint Eastwood' film.

The pre-World War II crime mystery Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie as a single mother whose child is kidnapped, opens tomorrow. The suburban revenge potboiler Gran Torino, which the Oscar-winning legend stars in and directs, opens on Feb 19.

As an actor, he has been all over the map, from space (Space Cowboys, 2000), to hell (High Plains Drifter, 1973). He has played a philandering deejay (Play Misty For Me, 1971), an orang utan-loving trucker (Every Which Way But Loose, 1978) and a singing gold prospector (Paint Your Wagon, 1969).

But two roles cemented his name in cinema history: The Man With No Name (1964-1966) and Dirty Harry (1971-1988).

The cowboy epics of the 1960s were shot in Italy and Spain, home of the cheap and cheerful spaghetti western. Many were shot in the dry, rocky Spanish region of Andalusia, where the landscape resembles the American south-west.

It has been said that he failed to move on to bigger things in Hollywood because one studio executive took a look at the 1.93m-tall, lean actor and said: 'His Adam's apple is too big.'

Whether that anecdote is true or not, the fact remains that his work with Italian director Sergio Leone, backed by music from the incomparable Ennio Morricone, turned the B-grade gunslinger yarns into box-office hits in the United States.

Born in 1930 in San Francisco to a steel worker father and a factory-hand mother, the college dropout spent some years drifting around California working in blue-collar jobs before trying acting. His biggest break came as a do-gooder cowboy in the TV series Rawhide (1959-1966). His career stalled until the call from Leone.

The director contacted Eastwood because other tough-guy actors such as James Coburn had turned down the work, citing low pay and hard working conditions as reasons.

The Italo-westerns reflected the mood of the times. Gone were the black-hat, white-hat John Wayne-style attitudes. The Man With No Name was a selfish, violent anti-hero. The flapping poncho, stubble and slim cigar clamped between thin, determined lips came to be as recognisable around the world as Elvis Presley, as did the first four notes of Morricone's soundtrack for The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.

In a recent interview with Esquire magazine, Eastwood said: 'People love westerns worldwide. There is something fantasy-like about an individual fighting the elements. Or even bad guys and the elements. It was a simpler time.'

Ironically, though few other men have looked as good with a cigarette or cigar, the man himself has never been a smoker.

As an actor, he would revisit the western in a string of well-received movies in the 1970s, such as High Plains Drifter (1973) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).

These movies with their more liberal message - God-fearing conservative townspeople are not all good, Indians are not savages - stand in contrast to his right-wing slant of the same period, 'Dirty' Harry Callahan.

'Do ya feel lucky, punk?' and 'Go ahead, make my day' are among the most oft-recited movie catchphrases, thanks to the quintet of Dirty Harry movies - Dirty Harry (1971), Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983) and The Dead Pool (1988).

Dirty Harry would spawn a genre - everyone from TV's Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis in The Shield, 2002-2008) to the movies' Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, 1987) can trace their lineage to Harry Callahan.

More than any other work, it created the public idea that Eastwood the man is a gun-toting man's man unhappy with the liberal drift his country has taken since the end of the Vietnam War.

While he is a Republican who supports presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, he describes himself as more of a freedom-loving libertarian, not a values-driven conservative.

Culturally, he is very much a hipster with a love of jazz and the movies to prove it, such as the biopic of saxophonist Charlie 'Bird' Parker, Bird (1988). Eastwood also received composer credits for his recent directorial work such as Mystic River (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Changeling.

In fact, Changeling received two Golden Globes nominations - for Angelina Jolie's performance in the Best Actress category and for Eastwood in the Best Original Score. As it turned out at the awards ceremony on Monday, neither won.

Love it or leave it

The winner of Best Score, rocker Bruce Springsteen (The Wrestler, 2008) quipped: 'This is the only time I am going to be in competition with Clint Eastwood. It feels pretty good.'

Eastwood's acting output has slowed down in recent years but his directing work has gained critical acclaim, if not always commercial success.

The wave of praise began in earnest with the cowboy ballad of sin and redemption, Unforgiven (1992), which won four Oscars, including Best Director for Eastwood and Best Picture.

He would win one more directing Oscar for yet another redemption story, the boxing fable Million Dollar Baby.

He told CNN recently: 'I just make the pictures and where they fall is where they fall. If somebody likes them, that is always nice. And if they do not like them, then too bad.'

As a director, he is known for his economy. He does not do multiple takes and actors and crew are often surprised to find themselves done by early evening.

'Everything I do as a director is based upon what I prefer as an actor,' he has said.

His technique is decidedly old-school. He does not employ jiggly handcams, fast, impressionistic cuts or fancy 'fly-around' perspectives. His shots are usually wide and still. He lets the audience decide where to look.

Despite his early roles, he is not an action director. He prefers dramas where characters drive the plot, not the other way around. In such films as Unforgiven, Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, he is drawn to people who are forced to atone for earlier mistakes.

He is meticulous about locations, he wants them to be as richly developed as the actors themselves.

In the period drama Changeling, for example, his team scoured California for authentic-looking pre-war locales. A working streetcar was built for one scene.

In spite of his artistic and critical successes as a director of stories about people seeking redress in old age for the sins of their youth, there is apparently still a deep hankering for the tough-guy Eastwood in these credit-crunch times.

His role as Walt Kowalski, the laconic, grizzled Korean War veteran forced to become a one-man army against street gangs, has become a hit.

Gran Torino grossed US$30 million (S$44 million) in its opening weekend in the United States on Sunday, putting it in top place and making it his highest-ever opening as an actor or a director.

Put a gun in his hands, a squint in his eyes and a sneer on his lips, as Gran Torino's posters do, and yes, it seems he will indeed make our day.

Essentially Eastwood

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)

Why this spaghetti western works is a mystery, but it just does. The three main characters are unlikably selfish and conniving. The plot is jumbled and filled with incredible coincidences.

But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and this film has stood the test of time, inspiring young directors such as Quentin Tarantino to feel that good genre pulp and high artistic achievement are not incompatible.

Clint Eastwood's enigmatic loner character, much of it his own creation, was a new hero for new times.

Unforgiven (1992)

Directed by and starring Eastwood, it put Hollywood on notice that a new directorial force had arrived and the town rewarded him with four Oscars, including one for directing.

His vision in the movie is as spare and still as his character, Bill Munny, an ageing gunslinger forced to break his promise to never kill again. The film was also a box-office success, grossing US$160 million (S$238 million) worldwide.

Mystic River (2003)
Actors Kevin Bacon (left) and Laurence Fishburne (centre) taking directions from Eastwood in Mystic River. --PHOTOS: VILLAGE ROADSHOW, SINGAPORE CABLE VISION

The Eastwood directorial trademarks are here: wide-angle photography, locations that become characters in themselves, spare dialogue and trust in actors' body language.

Thematically, there is his fascination with the young paying for the sins of the old.

The drama of three men whose present lives are haunted by a horrific incident in their childhood won a Best Actor Oscar for Sean Penn and Best Supporting Actor honours for Tim Robbins.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Red Alert

Dec 25, 2007

Come December, bright red crabs are found crawling virtually everywhere on Christmas Island as they make their annual migration to the coast

By Mavis Toh

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Confessions of a cinema programmer

Meet the man who decides what you get to watch on the big screen

Weekend • November 10, 2007

Kenneth Tan